Several factors make Kenya’s doping crisis unlike others, according to Clothier, of the integrity unit. These include the place of running as an escape from poverty in Kenya, one of the world’s poorest countries; the unmatched depth of the country’s professional class of runners; and the historical lack of out-of-competition drug-testing for elite athletes who compete below the level of the Olympics, the world championships and the major marathons in Boston, New York, Chicago, Berlin, London and Tokyo.
Thousands of Kenyans earn their livings from running, where prize money and appearance fees for a road race like a 10k, half-marathon or a top marathon can range from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. This kind of money can be “life changing, community changing,” in Kenya, Clothier said, providing the possibility to buy a farm or a hotel, or to open a school in a country where the annual gross domestic product per capita is about $2,100, according to the World Bank.
“This is our profession,” said Kipyegon, the Olympic women’s champion. “We have nowhere else to go, no offices to go to” to make a decent living.
The pressure to climb Kenya’s pyramid of success, along with insufficient drug screening of professional athletes who are not of Olympic caliber, has created a “wild west” environment for doping, Clothier said, in which athletes and their enablers are “taking much bigger risks than they do elsewhere.”
Kenya’s increased financial commitment to antidoping is encouraging, Clothier said, although more athletes will now surely be caught as the country’s drug testers cast a wider net. It will be a “long, long road” to fix the problem, he said. But Kenyan running has no choice but to follow it wherever it leads.
“It’s kind of now or never,” he said.